Honeycomb Head: a pretty funny name for flower, don’t ya think?
For many years I have admired the beauty of this coastal pine woods sunflower species, thinking it was a Helinium. I recently had it identified by Dr. Charles M. Allen as One Flower Honeycomb Head or Balduinia uniflora. The plant is not much at all to see at ground level, but a small rosette of leaves(see link at very bottom of article). The the root system must be substantial because the nearly leafless flower scapes reach high above the ground, with an occasional one up to my chin, but most often they reach to about three or four feet in height.
(click on photos to enlarge)
The flowers are robust, worthy of a prime spot in any formal perennial border garden. But I’ve never seen it for sale in plant catalogues or in nurseries. Butterflies, bees and skippers nectar on it and the oil-rich seeds are available as forage for wildlife. And as is the case in most sites I’ve seen it, grows out of masses of native grasses like Narrow Leaf Bluestem, and accompanied by other high conservancy wildflower species.
The flower head is singular(one per stem, hence the uniflora species name), a typical disc and ray arrangement with long ray linear petals that are heavily notched on the tips. The tightly clustered florets(individual flowers) are arranged in a rather large, near-spherical form, perfect for an insect landing strip. Their detailed, geometric arrangement may have something to do with the common name, Honeycomb Head. Or maybe it has something to do with the honey it makes.
When the life the flower is waning, the petals fade, the stem turns pinky-red, and the yellow pin-cushiony disc slowly over time, ages, like a fine wine, turning the color of a fine Merlot: a rich, deep, dark red. This colorful bud-like seed cluster persists until at least mid-November.
above: Honeycomb Head in November at Buttercup Flats, DeSoto National Forest, Mississippi
The plant doesn’t go far to the west of the Pearl River. Dr. Allen says that its only been found in the southern parts of Tangipahoa and St Tammany Parishes in Louisiana. And the Vascular Plant Atlas for Louisiana notes that the most-western edge of its range is Tangipahoa Parish. I have found it in many natural areas in south Mississippi and Alabama including the publicly accessible Buttercup Flats in DeSoto National Forest, The Nature Conservancy’s Lake Ramsey natural area and the Crosby Arboretum’s Hillside Bog natural area. You can’t miss the plant. It is very prominent in the landscape when in flower and in seed.
I’ve collected it for seed mixes for restoration but haven’t yet seen it mature enough to flower. I’ve never grown it from seed in the nursery but I plan to collect some this year for that reason. I suspect its not too tricky.
I plan to collect the seed this year to grow some when they are ready. I’ll try some sown straight into pots and some I will stratify for a couple of months in the fridge prior to February sowing. I’ll try some pressed into the soil and some covered with the soil medium, just enough to cover the seed. This experiment should give me a good idea of what the favorable conditions are to grow it. Maybe I will fail completely, but I will try next year with a couple of different planting scenarios to see if I can get it germinated.
This Balduinia is an obscure plant but a very dramatic one when seen as it often occurs, in large numbers. It may or may not be worthy of a home garden but it is certainly one for the piney woods meadow. The above shot is from Lake Ramsey Preserve, north of Covington, Louisiana.
Get out and see it for yourself. You can’t miss it if you get within a quarter mile. its pretty(“real nice”, as they say down here).
For some super-excellent photos of details of this plant, go to Jeff Pippen’s link… …some beautiful un-doctored photography.